As a brunette with very dark eyebrows, over the years, I’ve felt a little limited in what I can actually do colour-wise with my long locks. I used to find that when I embraced my natural colour, I felt as though the cool dark-brown shade washed me out, yet going blonde was never an option, as I was so conscious of my jet-black brows. But that was a long time ago. In fact, it has been eight years since I last had to worry too much about my hair colour.
That is because, in a bid to try and find the right balance between dark and light, eight years ago I stepped foot into my local suburban salon with an inspiration picture that showcased a hair trend that made the stylist scrunch up his face. “Leave that picture with me and come back in an hour. I need to think about this one,” he said. I returned a little while later, sat down in the chair and watched on as one of the juniors rolled out a trolley full of different dyes. The stylist came over and explained to me that after a lot of research, he was convinced he could do something that was going to get me closer to my desired colour, but I was going to have to trust him because he was going freehand. Young and prepared for any hair disaster about to come my way, I accepted.
The result was everything I’d hoped for. Subtle hints of blonde shone through the lengths, blending seamlessly into my natural colour at the roots. A couple of years later, and it seemed this new hair colour trend had a name: balayage. While for decades, hair-colouring techniques in the UK had been based solely around a strict menu of block colour, full-head highlights, half-head highlights or T-section highlights, leading UK hairstylists were starting to adopt more tailored, international techniques, and balayage was the first big movement.
Since that moment, I’ve more or less stuck to my balayage roots (pun totally intended) and only really switched up my colour to experiment with other forms of balayage. And in all honesty, I’m not sure I’ll ever look back. When it comes to going to the hairdresser, I’m the worst and often it will be six months between visits. Luckily, balayage makes this all possible. I don’t have to worry about roots, and an impressive selection of purple conditioners (I’m obsessed with Redken Blondage Express Anti-Brass Mask) to keep the blonde cool and fresh along with nourishing treatments to keep bleach damage under control (Aveda Damage Remedy Daily Hair Repair is my weapon of choice) makes balayage just about the most low-maintenance hair trend going.
Above all, balayage comes in a whole heap of different forms, each one as chic as the next. From thick highlights on already-blonde tresses to superfine caramel flecks through deep brunette lengths, there’s not a single variant I’m not on board with. Sound like something you might want to consider? Read on for everything you need to know, including all of the best inspiration out there.
What Is Balayage?
Without getting too technical, balayage is actually a term that refers to the way in which a stylist applies colour. Rachel Todisco, lead colourist and balayage specialist at Aveda UK, reveals, “Balayage is a freehand technique that creates soft dimension, mimicking how the hair would naturally lighten in sun. The dye is applied to the mid-lengths and ends as opposed to directly to the roots like a full-head colour or foil highlights might.”
The most wonderful thing about it, however, is that how each and every stylist chooses to carry out the technique is totally up to them. “If you took to Instagram and typed in ‘balayage,’ you’d see so many artistic interpretations. Originally, it was a French technique that comes from the word ‘to sweep’ colour onto the hair,” says Todisco.
What Are the Benefits?
For lazy girls like me, the best thing is that you really don’t have to worry about regrowth. Although in some situations, the colour might be taken up close to the root, the idea is that any regrowth will blend in seamlessly.
“Choosing balayage really works with the hair. It creates a totally customisable, personalised colour finish compared to any other technique, and it looks natural,” explains Todisco. “The ability to dial up or down the colour has made it a popular choice for the ‘colour shy.’ You can be as subtle (or bold) as you like with the ability to curate a completely tailored finish that is low-commitment.”
Who Does It Suit?
If you’re waiting for the negatives, you’re going to be waiting for quite some time. Balayage more or less works for every hair type, every skin tone and every length. “That’s the magic of it,” says Todisco. “However, you will likely find that the longer your hair is, the more you’ll get out of the low-maintenance element compared to shorter, pixie styles.”
However, just because balayage suits everyone doesn’t mean it’s a one-size-fits-all situation. Because it requires a level of tailoring and personalisation, it’s important to know exactly the sort of style you want before you sit down in the salon chair.
Not sure where to start? Keep scrolling for all of the balayage inspiration you might need.
Curly-haired girls, rejoice. Balayage looks amazing on every texture and hair type. I'm obsessed with Celeste's honey lengths.
Tia's caramel balayage blends seamlessly with her short brunette crop.
Ada's silver-tipped braided balayage is just about the coolest interpretation of the hair look we've seen.
Elizabeth Olsen brightens up her mousy brown locks with superfine blonde balayage.
On first look, it might be difficult to spot Suki's balayage, but when you look closely, you can spot the different colours running through the lengths. Subtlety is key for the laid-back style.
Ask your stylist to focus your balayage to the front sections of your face to brighten your complexion, just like Tricia. Sp glowy.
Jessica's dark roots blend seamlessly into her blonde lengths.
Ambrosia's braids look even more beautiful with the addition of her balayage lengths.
Those with bobs can rock balayage too, as demonstrated perfectly here with Annabel's wavy blunt cut.
Jasmine's face-framing balayage streaks look amazing styled into beachy curls.
Lotte's borderline-peach tones bestow her balayage locks with a glowy finish.
The only thing that is capable of topping Halle Berry's iconic pixie haircut is this wavy, balayage style.
Keep your blonde hair fresh with lighter balayage streaks through your natural colour, just like Johanne.
Caitlins balayage ends give her curls even more depth and dimension. Stunning.
Create a subtle balayage look by choosing a colour that's close to your natural shade. Jill's soft, reddish ends look beautiful with her almost-black roots.
Even VB can't get enough of the balayage trend, having recently stepped out with freshly dyed, caramel locks.
If you ask me, SJP is the absolute queen of balayage. I'm beyond obsessed with the way she has paired her messy-but-not lengths with an embellished headband here.
Renia's subtle balayage makes her impressive corkscrew curls look even more impactful.
Superfine, cool-toned blonde balayage is the ultimate way to make brunette hair look sunkissed.
Gisele's voluminous locks are my hair-goal inspiration every day of the year.
Amaka's lighter ends will help transition her beauty look from winter to spring with ease.
Yes, balayage looks just as chic when channelled in a short, choppy hairstyle.
Margot's retro curly 'do really shows off her honey-coloured balayage in the best way possible.
It may be subtle, but Aimee's golden balayage ends show that this look needn't be a thing of contrasts.
Balayage even looks great in an undone ponytail.
Another benefit of balayage hair is that it adds gorgeous depth to undos and half-up, half-down styles.
If you're worried about how balayage might look with a full fringe, you can just stick to lengths and avoid your fringe completely. It's all low-maintenance.
Marissa's darker roots make her lighter ends look even glossier (if that was even possible).
Keep things low-key like Ciara and only opt for bleach at the very ends.
We love the contrast between Gergana's dark roots and blonde lengths. Don't even get us started on the Chanel clip.
Everything about this hairstyle is gorgeous, including the caramel balayage.
Balayage lengths needn't be blonde—here, Nnenna shows just how beautiful warm auburn tones can be.
Of course, Rosie's blonde lengths-to-dark roots balayage is nothing short of seamless.
If you're all about embracing the '90s, opt for chunky, face-framing blonde highlights at the front and superfine streaks everywhere else.
Marie ups the retro feel of her balayage hair with a sweeping fringe and blown-out ends.